It was anything but conventional, but then again, head coach Jennifer Rademacher admitted her Robbinsdale Cooper girls basketball team likes it that way.
What the Hawks achieved last week would certainly qualify as unconventional, only because it was a first for the 48-year old school.
Cooper had never won a conference championship of any kind in girls basketball.
That changed Feb. 19, as the Hawks battled back from a dismal first half to rally for a 48-42 victory at Benilde-St. Margaret’s to claim the 2012-13 North Suburban Conference championship outright.
Considering the road block the Red Knights have put up in the last couple years to halt Cooper from winning a league title, the setting was more than fitting.
As was the exchange that took place in when it was done, which featured BSM activities director Jerry Pettinger delivering the North Suburban Conference championship trophy to Rademacher, who immediately headed into the locker room to hand it over to her girls.
The screams that rang out were ear-splitting, and might have even awaken some ghosts.
“To walk in there and show the trophy and have them go crazy, that is what it is all about, that is what means the most,” said Rademacher. “It has been a long time coming, and that moment in there felt really good.”
It was never a lock, especially with the way the Red Knights stayed on Cooper’s heals since the Hawks 55-47 victory back on Jan. 15 gave them the smallest of cushions to work with.
That margin appeared even slimmer early Feb. 19, as BSM built a 20-13 advantage at the half and then immediately extended the advantage to 12 points in the second half.
But Cooper responded to the deficit on the defensive end, which translated to some easy buckets in transition that the Hawks finally turned into a 39-37 lead with 5:21 to play.
“It was about getting stops,” said Rademacher. “We were going to score two, and then go get a stop. We ran a little wrinkle at them and got a couple turnovers, and then scored a couple and you could see this big deep breath and it was okay, let’s play basketball.”
Cooper was forced to play much of the night with Chelsey McGee and Talayliah Rich on the bench in foul trouble. That left the Hawks reserves with the job of evening the score.
They did it with a tenacity on defense that has been the hallmark to what Cooper has done this year, and it gave both McGee and Rich a chance to get back in the game and drive an offense that had sputtered most of the night.
“We have the confidence in the girls to come in and get the job done,” said McGee, who still managed to lead the team in scoring with 15 points. “There was a good vibe on the bench. It was tough to watch, because you wanted to be out there, but we were cheering them on.”
The hope now is the girls are in another position to root each other on this week.
Cooper finished off its perfect run through the North Suburban Conference with a 54-49 victory at North Branch Feb. 22 to give them a 16-0 record in league play.
That, however, won’t hold much weight this week.
The Hawks were awarded the No. 4 seed in the Class 3A, Section 6 tournament. Cooper hosted No. 5 Minneapolis Southwest Feb. 27, where a win would get them into a likely semifinal match-up with two-time defending state champion Hopkins Saturday, March 2 at Osseo High School.
“We are fully aware what we’d be up against,” said Rademacher. “We’d have to play the best game we can possibly play. If we do that, and we lose, we live with that. But if we play our best game, we’ll give ourselves a chance, and that is all we want.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]